Monday, 19 June 2017

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Triple threat Maya Wilkinson is passionate about theatre and poised for greatness

RUNNING THE SHOW: "I always knew this is where I'd end up," reflects Wilkinson, who proudly wears hats of writer-director, producer and graphics designer.

TRUE confession: visual art has always been among the great loves of Maya Wilkinson’s life. So much so that it partly inspired her new play, Heist, a very funny short comedy that has been transformed into a full-length commercial production, opening to audiences at the Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona, for a brief summer run, starting July 21.

“It’s been a beautiful experience,” she says of fleshing out the story, centred on two bumbling crooks (played by Desmond Dennis and David Crossgill), who break into an art museum to steal a painting. “Art is therapeutic; laughter is therapeutic. And given the opportunity to laugh people will take it. We all want to let go of the problems of life, even if just for a moment.”

Heist comes to this latest reincarnation on a wave of critical praise and multiple accolades, including the eight awards it copped (Best Production among them) at the 2014 Tallawah Dramatic Arts Festival at Mona. But easily the most striking aspect of the new version is the swelling of the cast from three to 16. All men. And in addition to penning the updated script, Wilkinson is pulling double duty as producer and director.

We couldn’t help but wonder what it’s been like for Wilkinson, a soft-spoken rose, calling the shots on a set drenched in testosterone. Did she have to crack the whip? She lets out a hearty laugh. “It’s been challenging but a lot of fun. It’s working out better than I imagined,” she says of collaborating with the large ensemble (some of them pictured below) that features such heavyweights as Michael Holgate, Chris McFarlane, Everaldo Creary and Rodney Campbell, alongside younger, up-and-coming talents like Darian Reid, DuVaughn Burke and Kaleb D’Aguilar. “The balance in the cast is a plus. The guys are very professional, and the older and more experienced actors have been giving guidance to the younger cast members.”

Since embarking on the whirlwind jaunt of bringing this big-stage debut to life, Wilkinson herself has been the beneficiary of communal support and hard-earned wisdom. “The hardest part of putting the show together was finding the financial support. Getting assistance from the theatre community really helped, and it opened doors for me to get corporate support,” she says. “After we put the cast together, I got rehearsal space. And I’ve been getting a lot of guidance and advice.”

Yes, a lot of people want to see Maya Wilkinson succeed. At 26, she’s at the forefront of a new generation of Jamaican female theatre practitioners writing their own plays, commanding respect and making their presence felt. No doubt, the likes of Yvonne Brewster, Suzanne Beadle, Tanya Batson-Savage and Dahlia Harris are immensely proud. In fact, Harris (acting as emcee) was among those heaping praise on Maya, as she hosted a well-attended launch for Heist recently at the Jamaica Pegasus Gardens, where artworks by Charl Baker, Ikem Smith and Javier Dayes, among others, were on display, adding a very classy touch to the whole affair.
A few interesting facts about Maya Wilkinson: Her Guyanese parents, big lovers of the arts, migrated to Jamaica when she was three. She grew up in Wakefield, Trelawney, going on to attend Montego Bay High before enrolling at UWI Mona. In 2011, she was a finalist for the Miss Jamaica World crown and, in 2016, the JCDC named her Playwright of the Year at the National Creative Writing Competition. A graphics and multimedia pro, she holds a BA in Media & Communications. 

These days, the film world appeals to her, but nothing quite compares to the pull of the stage. “My first and truest love will always be theatre. Being in the moment is very magical to me,” says the writer-director, whose other acclaimed works include the award-winning short play Vessel, and who hopes to tackle the God mystique for her next major theatrical undertaking. 

But she’s in no hurry. Preparing to put on a crowd-pleasing show is full-time work that pulls on all her faculties and keeps her firmly planted in the moment. “I’m a bit overwhelmed and distracted by all this,” she confesses, laughing, surrounded by dozens of friends, colleagues and well-wishers at her launch. “I have done a lot of things outside of theatre, but I always knew this is where I’d end up. I hope I can keep at it and not be scared into abandoning it.”

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